Buffalo | Kensington Expressway

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History and Context

Before the age of highways, celebrated landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted designed the city’s Delaware and Humboldt Parks, linked by the tree-lined boulevard of the Humboldt Parkway. The construction of the Kensington and Scajaquada Expressways in the 1960s marred this masterful plan and separated parks and neighborhoods. A half-century later, community leaders recognize that the restoration of Olmsted’s original plan will create a stronger Buffalo.

Not only did this pair of expressways deprive Buffalo of quality parklands, but it also severely damaged the neighborhoods along these corridors. The demolition of thousands of homes and businesses in Buffalo’s East Side to make way for the Kensington Expressway displaced city residents, while NYSDOT seized parts of Delaware Park on the justification that it was “vacant land.” Property values in the Hamlin Park neighborhood, situated where these two highways connect, plummeted and remain among of the lowest in the city. Many local businesses in the nearby Jefferson and Fillmore business districts were shuttered as residents moved away.

Proposal

Fortunately, many of the assets near the expressway corridors remain relatively intact. Humboldt Park (renamed Martin Luther King Jr. Park) endures as the home of the Buffalo Museum of Science. The present-day park reflects the city’s African-American heritage and hosts its annual Juneteenth Festival. The now-bisected Delaware Park is still a popular destination within the city.

Many local organizations, including the Restore Our Community Coalition, the Scajaquada Corridor Coalition, and the Olmsted Parks Conservancy are working together to restore the original Olmsted parks system through context-sensitive solutions.

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A 2013 model of a new Humboldt Parkway. Source: University at Buffalo’s School of Architecture and Planning

These groups support a NYSDOT proposal to cover a one-mile stretch of the Kensington Expressway to reconstruct the former Humboldt Parkway. This proposal re-connects the neighborhoods divided by the depressed highway and creates a pedestrian-friendly environment by relegating fast-moving traffic to the underground lanes.

The parkway would return 14 acres of land to the community and generate opportunities for infill development and affordable housing. In turn, reinvestment to the Jefferson and Fillmore business districts could create up to $2.8 million in new property tax revenue for the City of Buffalo over a 30-year period, in addition to $76.7 million in household wealth.

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